Friday Reads: The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson

“You’ll be okay. But you’ll lose some things” (35).

I believe it was early 2014, late into the last dregs of winter in my freshman year of college, when I got into webcomics. The serial format meant something to look forward to each week (in an era where Netflix “bingeing” was starting to take off), and there was a diverse buffet to choose from — not just in style, but in content. I’m not certain how I stumbled across Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona — then a webcomic, still running in series, now a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Finalist — but I did, and it shaped me, and when I saw the published, physical copy in my college’s library my senior year I carefully lifted it down from the shelf, held it in my hands and, well, cried.

The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir In Pictures is Stevenson’s story, from 2011 (before Nimona) to 2019. Stevenson — who uses she/her pronouns in the book jacket; her Twitter bio currently states that she accepts any pronouns — compiles comics and reflections from each year, centered around the idea of an inner fire — something that drives her, plagues her, inspires her, and burns her out at the same time.

While the book almost felt, at times, more like a scrapbook than a memoir, Stevenson crafts a poignant, moving, and powerful journey that is both intimately personal and welcoming in its relatability. The scrapbook/memoir is semantics, perhaps, on my part; however, I think I would have liked more of Stevenson’s current-self writing summaries of their past years, partially because I adore their writing style and partially because I felt a little cheated of original content (the book does contain new material); however, I also understand why they chose to recycle past blog entries. Besides, when I was honest with myself, even though I dimly remembered following Stevenson somewhere on the interwebs back in the day, it’s not like I actually remembered their yearly summary posts.

In his highly recognizable art style, Stevenson reaches out to his younger self and says, Hey — things suck, but you’re stronger than you know. You make it. It’s the “things get better” speech I needed to hear — that I, too, wish I could go back and tell my younger self — without the everything gets better. Not everything does. Things still suck. The fire never goes out. Some holes never get filled. Some scars don’t fade all of the way. We keep going, and growing, anyway.

Overall, like most graphic novel-style books, this is a quick read. And it isn’t all the heavy-hitting solemnity of finding one’s way through young adulthood, mental illness, and burnout; there are also moments of levity and love and humor. Stevenson finds herself, falls in love, and shares her art with countless people. The memoir ends up being a balanced, realistic piece, filled with beautiful sketches and art.

If you liked Nimona, you’ll like this memoir. And if you haven’t yet read Nimona, pick both graphic novels up and enjoy two good afternoon reads as we enter brighter days.

Stevenson, Noelle. The Fire Never Goes Out: a Memoir in Pictures. Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2020.

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